JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court has placed Kansas City attorney Michael Joseph Gunter on a stayed suspension and two years of probation.
Gunter allegedly engaged in acts of misconduct centered around instances of conflict of interest. The decision was made following the recommendation of the State Bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Panel.
According to the Supreme Court’s ruling (Supreme Court Case No. SC96162), Gunter willfully violated Rule 4-1.7(a)(2) of the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that an attorney shall not represent a client if the representation includes a concurrent conflict of interest. This exists when there is significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.
Gunter’s conflict of interest also allegedly manifested in a sexual relationship with one of his clients, which is a violation of Rule 4-1.8 subsection j. The rule states that a lawyer may not have sexual relations with a client unless the two parties were involved in a consensual sexual relationship before the attorney was hired to provide services.
In addition, Gunter improperly terminated his representation, which is a violation of Rule 4-1.16. The subsections of the rule outline acceptable instances in which an attorney is allowed to end his or her representation. Terminating representation of a client is allowable during instances in which the lawyer's mental or physical health prevents him or her from performing the required duties or the attorney is discharged by the client.
The client’s conduct can also justify termination of representation. These cases include instances in which a client asks the attorney to provide illegal services, the client used the lawyer's services to commit fraud, the client's actions are found the be "repugnant," the client doesn't complete an obligation to the attorney or the client requests services that are a financial burden.
Lastly, the conflict of interest extended to Gunter’s violation of Rule 4-1.4(a)(3). This rule states that an attorney will consult with a client on his or her limitations to provide services when the request will cause the attorney to violate the Rules of Professional Code. Gunter also violated subsection b of the rule, which claims that an attorney must explain a matter to the client thoroughly in order for the client to make informed decisions.
The court took into consideration several mitigating factors in its order, including the attorney’s disciplinary history. It determined that two years of probation would be a sufficient course of action. Gunter will need to comply with Rule 5.225, which lists the probation requirements he must follow.
The Missouri Supreme Court is in Jefferson City and was established in 1821 as the highest court in the state. It is presided over by seven justices: Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge and justices Laura Denvri Stith, Mary Rhodes Russell, Zei Fischer, George W. Draper III and Paul C. Wilson. The seventh seat is currently vacant following the death of Justice Richard Teiteiman. Missouri Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor and serve a 12-year term.